Meet The Researcher

Ms Rebecca Russell

Curtin University, WA

Let’s get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself...
I have been a qualified chef for over 10 years, and I bake and decorate cakes in my spare time.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
I wanted to be involved in research that could make a difference in people’s lives. When I was choosing my Honours project I saw an opportunity to interview people who had been recently diagnosed with MS, to explore their attitudes and behaviours regarding diet. Given that the dietary advice for people with MS in Australia is to follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines, I was drawn to that project to learn about how people respond to their diagnosis through diet. So many of the people with MS who have taken part in my research projects have been grateful for the research that I am doing and for giving them a voice. This inspires me to keep doing what I am in my PhD and beyond, in the field of nutrition education and MS.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
In terms of diet and MS, it is very exciting that we are starting to get more longitudinal data. This will help refine the nutrition messages in the future and provide a good basis for more clinical trials.
Tell us about your current research project...
My current research project involves engaging with people with MS and MS healthcare professionals to co-design a nutrition education program for people with MS. Our previous research has shown that people with MS are keen to make changes to their diet, and they want clear information on what dietary changes to make and how to make healthy food choices. The next stage of this research involves testing the feasibility and efficacy of the nutrition education program for improving diet quality and quality of life for people with MS.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
The current dietary advice for people with MS is to consume a healthy diet in line with the Australian Dietary Guidelines. Despite this advice, people with MS often search the internet for information about diet, where they are faced with conflicting information. They are unsure how to judge what information is credible, and what dietary changes they should be making. This nutrition education program will give people the knowledge and skills to make healthy dietary changes and to judge the credibility of nutrition information. The program will include food literacy skills to help with the selection, planning, preparation, and cooking of foods to create healthy meals. I will test the feasibility and efficacy of the program for improving diet quality and quality of life for people with MS, and the findings from this study will be used to support the development of a larger-scale randomised controlled trial.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
A lot of my research to date has been qualitative, and I really enjoy talking to people with MS about their experiences and their nutrition education needs. It is a real honour and privilege to collaborate with people with MS who are the experts of their own experiences. The main challenges for me are that I have three young kids (7, 4, and 1), and I work from home most of the time. I am passionate about my research, so that drive keeps me focussed and on task.
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Rebecca Russell